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Belarus/Russia: Presidents Sign Union Charter

Moscow, 23 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - The presidents of Russia and Belarus, Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, signed today in the Kremlin a Union Charter calling for closer integration between the two countries. The accord stops short of creating a single federation.

Lukashenka had said earlier today that a disputed clause committing the two countries to move toward a single federative state had been withdrawn during last minute negotiations he had with Yeltsin yesterday. Lukashenka said he had opposed the clause.

Interfax news agency reports that the Charter states that each president has the right of veto over decisions made by the Union, to be led by a Supreme Council bringing together the presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary leaders of both countries.

A previous daft of the Charter had called for the rotating presidency of the Supreme Council to take decisions, under the principle "one state-one vote." Members of the Russian cabinet seen as pro-reform had been reported to oppose that principle.

NTV commercial television said that one article of the agreement guarantees the respect of human rights and of freedom of the press. Lukashenka has been criticized by a number of Russian politicians and media for his dictatorial style and press-censorship.

Lukashenka said before the signing that the accord creates supranational organs, to be based in Moscow, to deal with issues of social protection, economic union and boosting customs, military and foreign policy union.